What an Apology Must Do

By Aaron Lazare | September 1, 2004 | 0 comments

There are up to four parts to an effective apology, though not every apology requires all four parts. They are as follows.

1. A valid acknowledgment of the offense that makes clear who the offender is and who is the offended. The offender must clearly and completely acknowledge the offense.

2. An effective explanation, which shows an offense was neither intentional nor personal, and is unlikely to recur.

3. Expressions of remorse, shame, and humility, which show that the offender recognizes the suffering of the offended.

4. A reparation of some kind, in the form of a real or symbolic compensation for the offender’s transgression.

An effective apology must also satisfy at least one of seven psychological needs of an offended person.

1. The restoration of dignity in the offended person.

2. The affirmation that both parties have shared values and agree that the harm committed was wrong.

3. Validation that the victim was not responsible for the offense.

4. The assurance that the offended party is safe from a repeat offense.

5. Reparative justice, which occurs when the offended sees the offending party suffer through some type of punishment.

6. Reparation, when the victim receives some form of compensation for his pain.

7. A dialogue that allows the offended parties to express their feelings toward the offenders and even grieve over their losses.

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About The Author

Aaron Lazare, M.D., is chancellor, dean, and professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He is a leading authority on the medical interview, the psychology of shame and humiliation, and apology. His most recent book is On Apology (Oxford University Press, 2004).


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